Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey
Los Angeles Times screenshot

People in Los Angeles are calling for the county’s first black district attorney to take a tougher stance and prosecute police for the shootings of unarmed black men.

Jackie Lacey is under pressure to make a decision in two cases of high-profile police shootings that resulted in the deaths of unarmed black men, the Los Angeles Times reports, including one in which even Los Angeles Police Department Chief Charlie Beck has publicly urged her to prosecute an officer who shot an unarmed black man in the back near the Venice boardwalk last year.

Advertisement

The Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office has not filed charges against an officer in an on-duty shooting in more than 15 years, and some black activists in the city feel that Lacey, who has headed the office since 2012, has failed them.

According to the Times, Lacey says that she has a deep-rooted respect for police but also a clear view of their historical abuse of black people and how that carries into the present. After police shootings, she said, her mind often jumps to the same question: Was it racially motivated?

“Who could not think about that?” Lacey asked in an interview. She added that she always looks for assumptions in cases, especially those involving people of color.

Advertisement

Lacey recently announced new mandatory training for prosecutors in how to avoid implicit racial biases.

Some civil rights activists told the Times that it is unfair to blame Lacey for a system that trains prosecutors to view law enforcement as the good guys and then expects them to look at officers as potential suspects in force cases.

Longtime civil rights attorney Connie Rice said: “The culture of the DA’s office is to circle the wagons around cops who you need to make your cases. That’s human nature.” Rice added that she believes Lacey is one of the fairest prosecutors she’s met.

Rice said that officers have wide latitude under the law in use-of-force encounters, and they cannot be held criminally liable if they acted reasonably and genuinely feared for their safety when they fired their weapons, which is an extremely tough thing for prosecutors to disprove.

Lacey was heavily criticized last year for not prosecuting California Highway Patrol Officer Daniel Andrew, who was seen on a video repeatedly punching a mentally ill black woman on the 10 Freeway. Lacey’s office concluded that the officer had to use some amount of force to keep Marlene Pinnock out of freeway traffic for her own safety.

Lacey has also drawn criticism for not announcing charges against the two officers who shot and killed Ezell Ford in Los Angeles on Aug. 11, 2014, just two days after the controversial killing of Michael Brown Jr. in Ferguson, Mo.

Advertisement

Although the police chief said that the shooting was justified because Ford had allegedly tried to grab an officer’s gun during a struggle, the city’s police commission ruled the shooting unjustified, saying that one of the officers had used flawed tactics leading up to the shooting.

Lacey has said that her office needs more time to review evidence from a wrongful death lawsuit filed by Ford’s family before a decision can be made.

In October, Lacey faced a hostile audience at a town hall meeting in South L.A. focused on race and the criminal-justice system. After being shouted down numerous times by the angry people present, she took the mic and tried to address their concerns.

Advertisement

“I’m just one woman,” Lacey said, “who’s trying to follow the law, who’s trying to listen, who’s trying to do the right thing.”

Read more at the Los Angeles Times.